Bight oil debate all about risk versus reward

THE risks and rewards of exploring for or drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight continue to be debated in communities all over the Eyre Peninsula. 

Some say there will be little reward for local communities with any profit likely to be snatched away by the big oil companies and any benefits that do flow through to Eyre Peninsula communities will not be worth the risk to existing industries.

A large section of the community – a number of local fisheries included – have decided the risk of an oil spill is too great to outweigh any benefit drilling in the Bight might bring. 

But there is no denying that should drilling go ahead, there will be economic benefits for the region and no doubt some, perhaps less vocal, individuals and groups would welcome it.

That is not to say each community will benefit equally; it is likely some will not see any benefit at all, but many will.

Port Lincoln mayor Bruce Green has pointed out that Port Lincoln has already seen some extra economic activity thanks to the seismic testing crew changes and depending on what is found in the Bight there would be plenty more to come.

While there might be economic reward and even – as Mr Green highlighted – potential benefits for the local population, those rewards are not enough for the people who lined up on the Port Lincoln foreshore on Saturday for Hands Across the Sand to protest big oil in the Bight.

These people are worried about tourism, the fishing industry and the environment should a spill occur and they are not alone.

A number of different fisheries and at least seven South Australian councils have taken strong stances against any further exploration.

Maybe the question the community needs to be asking is, is it right to risk our environment and delicate marine eco-system for any benefit no matter how small the risk?

Part of the problem is that the answer depends on your values and even then the unknowns are plentiful.

Oil companies cannot guarantee there will not be a spill and even if they could, those opposed probably would not just take their word for it. 

Also, no one really knows what economic or other benefits drilling for oil will bring to the region, if those benefits will be short or long term and if local communities will get a share of the profit.